Work and wellbeing: what works?

work-page-thumbHow does being in,  or out of, work affect our welllbeing? What guarantees a smooth transition into
retirement? How can we best learn on the job? What makes a ‘good job’?

The Work and wellbwing:What Works? series of briefings look at different aspects of wellbeing and work, and make recommendations for turning evidence into action. All our evidence is based on systematic reviews of all published research around the world, making it the most comprehensive available.


Download the unemployment and (re)employment and wellbeing (March 2017)


Download the policy briefing: retirement and wellbeing (Feb 2017)

What does the available evidence tell us about unemployment and re-employment?

  • Unemployment is damaging to people’s wellbeing regardless of their age, gender, level of education, ethnicity or part of the country in which they live. The longer the time unemployed, the worse the effect. 
  • People do not adapt to unemployment, their wellbeing is permanently reduced.  This is unusual as it is not the case for most life events.
  • Men’s wellbeing is more affected by the incidence and duration of unemployment. 
  • Wellbeing may decline further for young people, particularly if the spell of unemployment is longer. 
  • Unemployment not only affects the person who lost their job, it also reduces the wellbeing of their spouse, especially female spouses. 
  • Re-employment leads to higher wellbeing.

What does the available evidence tell us about retirement?

The way we retire matters for our mental health and wellbeing.

While we might assume packing work in and heading into retirement might make us happier, this research says how and why we retire is important to our wellbeing.

Also, who we are makes a difference: mes struggle more with wellbeing, especially if their wife* continues working.

The systematic review examines the global evidence base of mental health and wellbeing research. Half of the studies reviewed find that retirement was associated with improved wellbeing, however the other half showed no improvement in mental health or wellbeing and in some cases a worsening. 

The study found that ‘bridging jobs’ could make retirement happier. It suggests that employers should support older workers to ‘wind-down’ into retirement with the choice of bridging jobs or reduced working hours. 

The most important factor is control over retirement timing. Being forced to retire due to restructuring or ill health is negative for mental health and wellbeing. Those who take up bridging jobs because of financial strain showed lower wellbeing.

The study also found that:

  • leaving a more prestigious, satisfying job decreased your life satisfaction on retirement
  • predictably, retirees who are satisfied with their home lives and had support networks fare better
  • those with a higher education tend to benefit more from retirement.
* Based on a longditudinal study findings that started in the 19xx?, which didn’t reflect same-sex or non-marital partnerships.